Housing proves a hot topic in Charlotte

Crowded waiting room at Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte one August morning. Photo: Nancy Pierce

With community discussion and research ongoing around the problem of a lack of economic mobility in Charlotte, a Sept. 27 public lecture by Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer-winning author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, drew such demand that the free public tickets were snapped up in less than 24 hours.

Desmond will speak at 6:30 p.m. at McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square. The event organizers recommend that anyone wishing to attend should still register here to be put on the wait list, as some seats are expected to open in coming weeks. If you’ve registered and learn you can’t attend, event organizers ask you to please cancel your ticket to let some wait-listed registrants attend. This can be done on the registration site, or by emailing mnewsom@uncc.edu.

Author Matthew Desmond will speak Sept. 27 in Charlotte. Photo: Michael Kienitz

Desmond’s best-selling book explores eviction as both a symptom and a cause of poverty, and illustrates how some businesses make their profits by targeting people in extreme poverty. It stemmed from years of carefully gathered data and ethnographic research in two low-income Milwaukee neighborhoods, and tells the stories of eight families living on the edge, and two landlords who interact with them.

In conjunction with Desmond’s appearance, as many as 40 local book clubs are studying the book. See evictedbookclubclt.org for more information. The nonprofit Foundation For The Carolinas purchased 600 books for use by the book clubs; all 600 have been claimed.

After a highly publicized academic study ranked Charlotte 50th out of 50 cities in upward mobility for children (see the study here; see a non-technical summary here), Foundation For The Carolinas was a leader in a two-year initiative to study the social and economic divide and recommend changes. One of five main areas for improvement was child and family stability, including the statement “Take dramatic steps to address our affordable housing crisis.”

Brian Collier, the foundation’s executive vice president, sees the problems that arise from evictions as one manifestation of housing and family instability – “not housing as simply providing a roof over your head,” he says, “but housing as it’s connected to all these other things that are related to economic mobility.” Books and discussions about them are one way to get a message across to a large audience, Collier says. “How do you inform and transform a community, and win hearts and minds in the community? One of the ways you can do that is with books, and with discussions, with a presentation by an author.”

Sponsors of Desmond’s visit are the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Foundation For The Carolinas, Crisis Assistance Ministry, the Homeless Services Network, ULI Charlotte, Greater Charlotte Apartment Association, United Way of Central Carolinas, the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and Center for the Living City, a New York-based nonprofit.

Desmond is a professor in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University. As the principal investigator of The Eviction Lab, Desmond’s research focuses on poverty in America, city life, housing insecurity, public policy, racial inequality, and ethnography. He has received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, and the William Julius Wilson Early Career Award.